Is this the time to stop hating Poland?

4 07 2007

The Polish Dziennik daily reports on a debate that started in Israel, after one of internet portals asked the question: ‘Is this the time to stop hating Poland?’

The row over the relations with Poland, and whether Poland is a nation of murderers or Rigtheous Among the Nations is explained in Dziennik by Adar Primor, the editor-in-chief of the English language edition of the Israeli Haaretz daily. He took part in this debate publishing an article in Haaretz, in which he criticised Israeli stereotypes on Poland and the Polish. According to him, Poland is curreently the most pro-Israeli country in Europe. See Adar Primor’s article in Haaretz: “There is a new Poland” . Polish Dziennik published translation of this text together with a commentary for the Polish readers, which is translated into English below.

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Source: Dziennik daily, July 4th 2007
Author: Adar Primor, editor-in-chief of the English edition of Haaretz
Translation from Polish for this blog: MoPoPressReview

“IN ISRAEL WE SEE THE NEW FACE OF POLAND”

After having read my article, a reader said he will apply for a Polish passport. Others protested against including Poland in Nazi Germany. Some criticised the racism in Israel.

I was born in 1965 in Jerusalem. I was always aware of my Polish roots (my grandfather was born in Będzin, my grandmother in Katowice), and I had also known that my mother’s family was murdered on Polish soil during the Holocaust. As a proud Israeli, I always had a strong Israeli identity, thefore I wasn’t paying much attention to its Polish element.

My mum talked with her parents in Polish (however imperfect her Polish was), and when she was driving, my grandmother always shouted to her: “Uważaj” (look out, be careful) from the back seat, giving fright to other passengers. The same loving grandmother always watched us to make sure that we ate everything we had on our plates – which apparently was connected with some Polish (Jewish-Polish?) character feature, which “no Pole can get rid of”. But that concludes the list of things connected with Poland in my life.

When I was 12, my grandfather got ill. Once I heard him raving through his sleep. I came closer, but I wasn’t able to understand the word he kept saying. I asked my mum. “Będzin” – she said. It was the first time I heard the name of his home town. For the first time I understood what home country means. Although grandfather had left Poland over fourty years ago, this country was still alive in his heart.

This is why I was so excited when last month Polish embassy in Tel Aviv invited me to go on a trip to Poland, organised for Israeli journalists. Although I’ve been working for 12 years in “Haaretz” as foreign affairs editor – and I was also preoccupied with the news from post-communist Poland – I wasn’t sure whether the image of Poland that formed in my mind on the basis of media reports (and the interviews that I have done) does reflect reality. The text “There is a new Poland”, which I wrote after almost a week in Kraków, Auschwitz, Łódź and Warsaw summarises my new experiences and thoughts.

As one could have expected, the article published 15th July in Haaretz, did not go unnoticed. I think that no other article that I have ever written received so many reactions.

Some of them were positive, even warm. One of my colleagues journalists, who also went on that trip to Poland, praised me for “courage to fight for normality”, and added that he wouldn’t be surprised if readers stoned me. Meanwhile, pat of the readers – much larger than I expected – joined my colleague in praise. One of them visited Poland after sixty years (he had left in 1946) and saw a completely different country. Another person said, that after having read my article, he will apply for a Polish passport in the embassy. Others joined the historical debate and protested against the mental process in which many Israelis include Poland in Nazi Germany. Some of the readers said, that if we could forgive the Germans there is no way we could blame Poland. Others criticised racism in Israel itself.

On the other hand, one journalist who was born in Poland, and who has visited the country of her birth many times, both professionally and as a tourist, said that she doesn’t agree with some parts of my analysis, which – as she says – goes too far. More critical was my mother-in-law, who lived in Poland during the war. She survived together with her parents thanks to many Poles, who risked their own lives and were hiding them in barns and other places. Nonetheless she will never forget the horrible day in 1948, when she saw her parents being killed by a group of unidentified Poles, who could not stand the fact that Jews were coming back their homes. Her reaction to my article was deeply sceptical. ‘It is hard to believe that the Poles have really changed’ – she said.

Some readers were commenting that until the Polish government tolerates anti-Semites in coalition, and until it is ready to pay full compensations to Polish-Jewish emigrant, whose property was confiscated, one cannot talk about normality or a full reconciliation.

Nari Livneh, author of features in Haaretz, who visited Poland recently and discussed that visit in several articles, wrote: ‘Some things never change, and Poles also didn’t change’. In another feature, she summarises in one sentence the view, that still many Jews and Israelis share: ‘I would never trust the so called “New Poland”, or “New Germany/France/Hungary” or any other “new European country”, because something like that doesn’t exist‘.

The lively debate that my article provoked, can be concluded in my opinion with the words that the wounds have rather healed over, but some still have very visible scars.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.

 





Expelled from Tschenstochau

15 03 2007

Source: Wprost (weekly) of 18th March 2007
Author: Piotr Cywiński in Berlin

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German law allows the number of the expelled to be endlessly multiplied
‘A Russian dragged my sister-in-law out of the room. We heard shots. Then he returned. We we praying as he was shooting the grandmother, then my father, who only managed to say “auf wiedersehen” to my mum and us. My sister was sitting on the side. She was holding two children in her arms. He shot them too. Then my aunt. He wanted to take me. When i struggled, he hit me with the gun butt, cut my trousers down and raped me. Then he went away, but shortly came back and shot the baby in a pram’. This is a fragment Christel Jolitz’s memories published by the German Bild daily. This popular tabloid had published the real-life tragical stories before the public ARD channel broadcast the film entitled Die Flucht (Escape), by the public ARD channel. The characters and the plot in the film were fictional. The only real thing about it was the great exodus of Germans before the incoming Soviet Red Army.

Although a record number of viewers watched Die Flucht, the film is not a work of art. The screenplay unfolds a story about love between a German countess and a French POW doing forced labour on an estate in Eastern Prussia. The story is not very convincing, however it is set in the background that reflects facts. As Erika Steinbach, the president of the Federation of the Expelled (BdV), rightfully points out, the reality was more cruel and tragic. The 46-year-old director Kai Wessel says with pride, that he finally said out loud what had been kept in silence for 60 years. However, that reputed-silence surrounding the 12 million Germans, who run away fearing revenge or were resettled, is just a plain marketing trick.

Hitler’s last victims
There have been millions of pages of academic theses and literary works written on the subject of escape or resettlements in the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1949 a Ministry for the Expelled was formed, which existed until 1969. Museums remembering the little Heimats are scattered around the country, as well as Landsmannshafts receiving public funding, affiliating former residents even of those cities like Tschenstohau (Częstochowa), where German minorities before the war did not exist. And there is the powerful Bund der Vertriebenen (Federation of the Expelled). First movies about old lands and the fate of Germans were made in the 50s, for example Grün ist die Heide, or the later produced Death of My Father. Only in the last few months we could see on silver or tv screens: Escape and expulsion, trilogy Exile, Hitler’s Last Victims (on the tragedy of the Wilhelm Güstloff ship), two-episode Dresden (on bombing) and two films on the last days of Hitler’s life.

Talking about a silence surrounding expulsions is as nonsense, as the German politicians’ assurances that Erika Steinbach is powerless. Nota bene the problem does not only come down to her, although she actually personifies it well. The sole fact of appointing her in 1998 to the office of president of the Federation of the Expelled was a provocation. Since her parents were nazi occupants who settled in Rumia near the city of Gdynia during the war. BdV is full of people like her. And it is legitimised by an awkward definition in the statue for the expelled and refugees (Gesetz über die Angelegenheiten der Vertriebenen und Flüchtinge). It says:

Expelled is the one, who as a German citizen or a person belonging to the German nation, had had their place of residence in the German eastern lands, which had been previously under foreign administration or on the lands of the German Reich, on December 31st 1937, and had lost it in relation to the occurrences of The Second World War due to expulsion or escape’.

In accordance with to that definition, “expelled” in Germany multiply in numbers – and some estimates say – their number has risen to 15 million people. BdV membership cards are given also to the grandchildren of the resettled or economic migrants of recent years. Politicians seem not to see this, like they similarly do not see the links between BdV and neonazi movements, which were pointed out couple times. Paul Latussek, who used to be Erika Steinbach’s deputy, was also ruling the extreme right Free Citizens Federation (BfB), while his outrageous remarks on Holocaust cost him the job of lecturer at University of Ilmenau.

Few years ago Klaus Bednarz asked a question in his tv show “Monitor” ‘What does the multimillion budget funding for Bdv go for?’ The funds are aimed at helping to preserve cultural tradition, and historical inheritance of the expelled, and they go into destruction’. Maybe this is a coincidence, but soon after Bednarz lost his job at the television, and Erika Steinbach was chosen for the ZDF public channel’s board, and to thegoverning board of CDU, the party currently governing Germany. And then for the president of the CDU/CSU Human Rights Working Group at the German parliament. And some other lucrative posts. When not so long ago, in a tv debate with Steinbach, I quoted a letter sent by BdV members accusing her that she ‘is making political career using the resettled’ and calling her to ‘resign as soon as possible’ , she replied to me with a cynical smile, that she cannot complain for lack of support. Steinbach is very selfcertain. The main argument she directs at her political opponents is the electoral blackmail. Large parties are afraid of losing votes.

Rewriting History
Steinbach uses the good old rule, that a lie told over and over becomes truth. When she speaks, things start to take different proportions. Causes become smaller, the outcomes become bigger. The number of “expelled” increases too. During the expultions and escape 500-600.000 Germans died. She keeps talking about 2 million. It’s rewriting history. No serious researcher confirms these numbers. Who gives those numbers only wants to make foreign policy with it, and gather attention – says Ingo Haar, historian from Berlin.

Research conducted by the Federal Republic f Germany in 1974 conluded that there were 400.000 victims on the East from river Oder and 100.000 in Czechoslovakia. In the 80s a joined Czech-German commission, after doing deep research, has lowered the number of victims to 15-16.000 and agreed that the false numbers from the 50s will not be repeated any more. Stainbach remains deaf for these arguments.

Steinbach über alles
For bad Polish-German relations Steinbach blames the Polish parties, which she compared to neonazis. When a Wehrmacht’s officer’s daughter, born at the end of the war, who after 50 years voted against the border treaty with Poland, says that – it carries some extra meaning. (…) It is difficult to count her provocations: from attempts to block Poland’s entry to the EU until it returns the estates and pays compensations to the expelled, to outrageous remarks about “not consulting the fitting of buildings in Warsaw with Germans, who tore the city down.”

It raises a question, is one person more importaint for the Germany than good relations with a neighbouring country, or are her views more common? German politicians seem like they were acting according to “Steinbach über alles” principle. It is not needed to hear her apology. What is needed is a discussion among Germans themselves, what are they going to do with BdV-anachronism? Stefan Hambura, attorney from Berlin, thinks that the current Polish-German crisis is the last chance to close the the issue of of escape, resettlement, “expulsion”, and compensations. He suggests a final solution to this problem by proper acts, that should be attached to the European Constitution.

Will German politicians find enough strong will to deal with this inconvenient ballast from the past? One thing is certain: the way of solving the problem of BdV will be a gauge, that will tell us how sincere their conciliatory intentions are.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.